Thursday, July 16, 2009
Robert Creeley and the Bridge over the Mavrozoumena River
I know a man
As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking - John, I
sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what
can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,
drive, he sd, for
christ's sake, look
out where yr going.
The Peloponnese—“Pelops’s Island”—begins where the Corinth Canal severs it from mainland Greece and culminates at mainland Europe’s most southerly point—Cape Matapan (Tenaeron in Greek) in the Mani. Besides being a region of outstanding natural beauty, it is also full of classical archaeological sites such as Olympia, Mycenae, Ancient Messene, and Epidaurus; medieval ruins and old Venetian castles like those in Nafplion, Methoni and Koroni; Byzantine cities such as Mystras and Monemvasia. Not into ruins? No problem—the Peloponnese is also a perfect destination for those who want to get “off the beaten track” and explore all the other magic it has to offer: craggy, massive mountains and expanses of fragrant citrus; lush vineyards and silver-green olive groves; beautiful sandy beaches; hundreds of villages tucked away in valleys and hanging from mountainsides. If you get this far south of Athens and remember to look out where you’re going, you will be amply rewarded in more ways than one.
One of the reasons for going through Meligalas—besides stopping to visit the Zambaras family—is to see the impressive ruins of
Ancient Messene a few kilometers to the west behind Mount Ithome. On your way you first have to go over the historic, three-pronged, multi-arched, stone bridge over the Mavrozoumena River (see photograph above) on your way to Neochori (the birthplace of Maria Callas’s father). Mentioned by Pausanias in his Travels, this narrow bridge is believed to be the only one in Europe built over the confluence of two streams, and is surely the only one with a hairpin turn right in the middle.
I must have driven back and forth over this bridge hundreds of times, as it is on the way to my home village of Revmatia, but on the 11th of November, 1978, I found myself driving off it with a friend and into the shallow, muddy waters of the Mavrozoumena River ten distant meters below. There were no safety railings at that time, we were traveling at about 90 km-per-hour in a brand-new Ford Fiesta I had driven across Europe from Belgium one month earlier and were just returning from a leisurely 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. ouzo-drinking bout with two other friends in Neochori’s main square, one ouzo led to another and another and another until we lost track of just how many. . . .and then, sure enough, there we were, falling over the right side of the bridge.
Luckily, the span was flanked by some thick plane trees which miraculously broke the vehicle’s momentum. However, I was dumped out the open door of the now upside-down car and ahead of it down through the branches into the murky waters (my friend remained trapped in the falling car) only to have the Fiesta land right on top of me. There was enough mud to cushion the car’s fall and my head was still above the mud, though I couldn’t move my legs because they were under the car and I thought they were crushed until the villagers raced from the main square and pulled me out of the muck and my friend from the car. I was so drunk and in shock that I got back into the newly and violently transmogrified amphibian and tried to start it.
[NB: In this 1964 photo of the Mavrozoumena Bridge, as you travel left to right and focus in half-way between the man behind the donkey and the man in the horse-driven cart, you can pinpoint the exact place where I should have remembered Creeley’s best-known poem and stopped. By the way, my friend's name was George.]